The Feast of West and East

‎A HEAD-ON COLLISION between west and east the night was. In the west, you’d see the grandeur of mosque in its past colonial architectural style. But in the east, you’d behold the feast reflecting the contemporary, tolerant, open-minded face of Indonesian moslems with all the modernity and musicality.

Music was what united us that very night at the yard of Cut Meutia Mosque, located at the heart of Jakartan old development area, Cikini. ‎This was my first time to witness a jazz music festival inside a mosque’s railings and I had no clue what to expect moment after moment. In fact, I was completely in awe, shock and disgust at the same time. “This is nuts,” the conservative of me complained upon seeing a stage behind us.

While my companion said it was Ramadhan Jazz Festival 2015 (the fifth event to date) that lured him into coming there, I placed praying as my top priority. ‎I’m a moslem and I felt like the commercialism got a little bit too far. I felt odd to be asked whether I went to the mosque for a concert or praying.

And I was not alone. A couple of friends showing up there expressed their slight disappointment, citing it was not what they had in mind about an Islamic musical event. They remembered in 2012, they came to the mosque, enjoying the jazz festival with solemnity. “We just sat and it was free of charge. What mattered most was there was no ‎booths like now,” she reminisced while casting her view around. There were booths of culinary businesses in front of the mosque’s facade, getting more and more packed with hungry millenials-dominated customers as the night got darker. I couldn’t agree more. It was more a sight of a market than a place where you can interact with the Ultimate Divinity.

Though I was a first timer, I could relate to her disappointment. The hectic, noisy and uproarious music festival ‎simply failed to blend perfectly with the graveness and solitude of Cut Meutia Mosque.

Ramadhan Jazz Festival they held was boasted as “the first jazz festival held at a mosque.” It was held by, instead of a professional event organizer, the association of ‎youths at the aforementioned mosque. Of 54 jazz festivals ever held in Indonesia, certainly this had its own uniqueness.

Inside my head, I was torn into two. One facet of me wanted to approve of the combination of Islam and modernity. That was what partly made the nation could be unified, by embracing new foreign elements and integrating them into the culture and even rituals. And the other one lamented over the violated solemnity of Ramadhan and the mosque. ‎When I came to a mosque, I expect some degree of more intense solemnity to be away and free from the worldly affairs for a while. Here, I couldn’t find it.

To my eyes, it was a night of contradiction showcased so blatantly. A group of young males and females full of makeup wore Betawi traditional attires, entertaining the youthful audience. They danced hand in hand, and one manouvre entailed them turning around 360 degrees, with faces almost touching each other. One loss of focus or mistake would end up kissing each other in public. In the meantime, a flock of elderly inside the mosque were observing casually from the mosque, as if keeping everything in check. A middle-aged man with a moustache stood and watched it all; the crowd and the beats of drum didn’t seem to please him. He shook his head while I was behind him.

But apart from it all, I like to see how tolerant the people here looked. They were so much different from fundamentalist Islam you may see on media. ‎This was the Islam intepreted by contemporary Indonesians which surprisingly mirrored how actually Islam spread in the country centuries ago. Islam came to Indonesia with no bloodspill. The Islamization of Indonesia, according to the history record, was started in the 12th century and proceeded in a gradual and peaceful fashion for hundreds of years afterwards. So this festival was in accordance with the spirit of pacifist Islam, only more modern.

The event was more than just a secular festivity, apparently. As announced, to be there one had to provide alms starting from IDR 25K. We were told the alms gathered would be given to those in need of clean water supply with the assistance of social organization Dompet Dhuafa, healthy blood supply, and Saba Foundation which focused its efforts on providing assistance to the disabled.

And the secular, way-more-tolerant Indonesia government nowadays fully supported this jazz festival’s spirit. Minister of Labor Hanif Dhakiri was to be present on stage in favor of the two-day event. “Being a moslem in Indonesia encompasses two different perspectives: I am a moslem who happens to be living in Indonesia and I am an Indonesian who happens to be a moslem. I pick the second,” said he. “My being a moslem can never be separated from my being Indonesian. This Ramadhan Jazz Festival justifies it all, that we can be a devout moslem and a good Indonesian. You don’t have to be conservative, ‘jadul’ (Indonesian slang for ‘obsolete’) or ‘katrok’ (Indonesian slang for ‘rustic’).”

He later specified the importance of being a moslem without stripping away the local cultures and identity. Added he,”You can be a good Sundanese — or Javanese — and a good moslem at the same time.”

The festival was just getting absurd as the public official stayed on stage after he concluded his speech. He sang out loud for all of us there while I absurdly watch him through the window panes inside the mosque with both of my legs stretched. Sipping my bottled drinking water, I turned my head around only to find a notice saying,”Do not open the windows as the mosque is air-conditioned.” The doors and windows were all opened, making me scratch my head. I made up my mind: It was not only a night of collision but also full of contradiction.